“Penguin Bloom” may star Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver, but it’s the film’s scene-stealing birds that are nabbing all the attention — including from the stars themselves.
Based on the true story of the Bloom family, Watts stars as Sam, an active mother of three who is paralyzed after an accident while on vacation in Thailand. As Sam adjusts to life at home with her husband Cameron (Lincoln) and their young sons, an injured magpie named Penguin arrives and begins to change in their lives in a profound way.
However, working with a number of large magpies who share the role of Penguin caused some concern for Watts, who also serves as a producer on the film.
“That was the thing that made me nervous,” Watts says during the TIFF press conference for “Penguin Bloom”. “‘How do we get a performance out of a bird?’ Magpies are famously not super friendly. It was concerning to me and they walked me through it,” she says of the animal trainers.
According to Watts, the production “ended up with small amounts of animatronics and CGI” for the magpie scenes but “90 per cent was true, real-life birds. And they absolutely stole the scenes every single day.”
“They always say never work with a child or animals and the reason is, when they’re good no one is looking at you,” Lincoln jokes.
Working with the real birds wasn’t without its hazards as Watts found out the hard way: “Next thing you know, I feel a nice warm sensation trickling down my face,” she says after a bird perched on her head.
Bird fun aside, both Watts and Lincoln say the story of the Bloom family really resonated in their own lives.
“I remember when I read the book, it was a Sunday, a normal lazy day in bed and I was showing my kids the book and they were absolutely drawn in,” Watts explains. “In that instant and I was absolutely compelled by the images and Sam’s story. As an actor, you’re looking for that kind of role all the time as someone who has that kind of trajectory.”
“I was drawn to the project because it is a love story, fundamentally,” Lincoln says. “And it was an extraordinary atmosphere on set. My family was there, Naomi’s family was there. When you are dealing with someone’s true story, I just wanted to bring as much truth from my life and just listen to ‘Mega Watts’.”
“It’s a story of survival and resilience and hope. And that’s universal,” the actress adds.